Winota Rider Caught Stealing (Again?)
- Marin Magda
To win in today's Standard, there seem to be two rules: you better have a companion, and you also should have a good way of cheating Agents of Treachery into play. However, it appears that just meeting the second condition may be enough. The fastest way to a bargain steal is of course to enlist the help of Winota.
It's in the very nature of our game that not every deck is equal in strength. Currently, one of the biggest factors remains the fact that not every strategy can find a good way — or any, for that matter — of incorporating a companion. Looking at the last big Standard tournament, this year's first Red Bull Untapped event, it's safe to say that white-blue-x Yorion decks are still at the top. But there's hope for other contenders too. Two companionless strategies, Jund Sacrifice and Temur Reclamation, managed to make it to the semifinals, which is an enormous deal for decks without furry friends. However, the fact that a couple of Winota decks managed to reach the second day of the competition may be more interesting yet.
Now, the Standard metagame is changing rapidly, so by the time you're reading this, the deck can disappear, get more popular, or continue to put up relatively underwhelming results. For now, it's just an interesting way to play Magic, running a creature deck at a weird time to do so. So, what does it try to do and how has it been working out so far?
The Game Plan
If you like strategies that go all in, this one is for you. All Winota decks share a singular goal: play the namesake creature and attack with non-Humans to put free Humans onto the battlefield. Do it as early, with as many as possible.
Winota's effect is somewhat broken in that it triggers for each attacking non-Human creature of yours. Not only can it trigger multiple times during the combat phase, Winota doesn't even have to attack! All of this greatly increases the likelihood of the usual best-case scenario, which is hitting Agent of Treachery, even if you don't find it the first time around. This is not to mention that most lists include Kenrith and some additional Humans worth putting.
This is almost exclusively a creature deck. The only frequent noncreature inclusion is the oh so important Raise the Alarm. Those Soldier tokens sure do look human, but the subtype is not listed, which turns this card into two potential triggers. The most common creatures, aside from the ones already mentioned are Charming Prince, ideally to be found via Winota following an Agent, and Legion Warboss, the perfect set-up for Winota. The rest depends on whether you choose to play a Jeskai variant, the newer, four-colored one, or spicing things up even further.
The original and, initially, only successful Winota variant, Jeskai is the epitome of good stuff. Even though the "good stuff" means only creatures here, the deck still has a surprising amount of ways to control the board and create tokens. Since these versions have no way of ramping to play Winota earlier than turn four, there are plenty of 3-drops, some of which come with Adventures.
Even Fblthp, the Lost manages to make an appearance in Jeskai. This deck isn't really flowing with card draw, which could assist in finding Winota, so the signature Homunculus is here to help. It also helps fill the 2-mana slot and goes well with the scrying that Charming Prince and the Temples provide.
A creature that also used to show up frequently is Spectral Sailor. Since it's the cheapest creature than can also be flashed in, it's the most likely one to trigger Winota's ability. Teferi, however, shuts down flash, making it much less useful. I believe that's why it didn't make the cut in the 5-0 Jeskai list from May 21. This is the most recent Winota list with a good finish at the time of this writing:
|IJWTSOMF's Jeskai Winota, Standard League|
Haktos the Unscarred was heavily featured early on and, even though this list does too, many have ditched Haktos. The card's only truly useful when fetched with Winota, but it does have moments of its own. If you don't hit exactly 3, it'll greatly help fight Yorion decks, mainly by evading Teferi. In the end, it's a meta call since Haktos isn't any good against aggro decks.
A 4-drop that fares better against aggro is Elite Guardmage. It is now one of the more common backup solutions for when you just can't find an Agent of Treachery in Jeskai. Other than having flying, it draws you a card and gives you additional life, which is important for both finding Winota and surviving longer. I'd say that it's rarely a bad draw, especially since it's easier to play than Haktos mana wise.
Jeskai versions typically run as many creatures as they can, but this is not the only way to play Winota with these three colors. If you're having a bad time against interaction, try Teferi, Time Raveler. Teferi isn't that weird of a card here because he can make sure that creatures you play at the end of your opponent's turn connect and that Winota doesn't get countered or bounced before triggering. You can go even further in this direction and include counters such as Dovin's Veto. The deck's manabase easily allows for it anyway.
Some Winota decks splash a fourth color, green, for mana acceleration and sometimes Neoform to speed up a Joiner of Forces drop. At the Red Bull Untapped tournament, not a single Jeskai Winota made it to Day 2, but two out of seven four-colored Winotas did. Official statistics only showed archetypes with a bigger sample size — see below — because their numbers are more reliable. Two out of seven equals a conversion rate of 28.6%. The verdict's still out whether this is incredible or actually unbelievable; it definitely is incredibly high compared to even the top decks' conversion rates:
The downside of four-color versions is the less reliable manabase. It basically has to play a larger amount of Triomes, so there's no room for Temples, but they got the same land count as Jeskai's. All lands that strictly enter the battlefield tapped are good with Arboreal Grazer, though. It is nearly a must if you decide to play green, just like Gilded Goose, which is a great color fixer early on, when that's needed the most. The Winota list that performed best on Day 1 belongs to Sebastian Pineda, who went to Day 2 with a score of 7-1.
|Sebastian Pineda's Four-Color Winota, 7-1 at Red Bull Untapped|
Here, the Warboss, Hanged Executioner, and Alirios all provide two bodies: one that Neoform can turn into Winota and one that can trigger Winota. Leading with Grazer, this can happen as early as turn three. But things are neither terribly consistent nor impervious to oustide meddling.
If you find Neoform underwhelming, you can remove it altogether, make some other minor adjustments, and put back a playset of Raise the Alarm. The other list that made it to the second day shows what this would look like. It also shows that you can make room for Teferi if you really want to, but I'm still not entirely sold on removing the Geese.
|Pavel Semenov's Four-color Winota, 6-1-1 at Red Bull Untapped|
Bonus: Jeskai Yorion Fae Fires Winota
Winota decks are widely regarded to have no good way of including a companion. But Aaron Barich was ready to provide some counterevidence. She mixed Jeskai Yorion Fires with Winota, Joiner of Forces and Fae of Wishes // Granted, and took the resulting brew to #18 Mythic on Arena!
|Aaron Barich's Jeskai Yorion Winota, #18 Mythic on MTG Arena|
The Bottom Line
Winota still requires you to have at least one non-Human creature that's able to attack. If you do have one creature, it won't always fetch you an Agent, and one Agent won't always turn the table. The sad truth is, the deck remains a bit of a glass cannon. However, it proves more customizable than it had seemed at first, so the best version may not have been found yet.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.